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“There Are No Secrets” and other SEO Myths

One of the Great Myths of SEO is not that “there are no secrets”, but that “there are no secrets” articles are hogwash. Anyone in search marketing who says “there are no secrets” either has not been in search marketing for very long, or has an alternative agenda for that propaganda. I’ve been in SEO for a long time. I discover new “secrets” every day, and sadly, I routinely learn of secrets my colleagues have been using well after they started using them. More often than I care to stomach, newly discovered “secrets” cause me to revamp SEO strategies in a hurry. I’m not the most connected SEO in the world, so I don’t know all the secrets, but of course I know there are secrets!

SEO is about competitive advantage, not process. Those agency-types who would like you to believe that a fat agency fee will keep you competitive have a conflict of interest. They need SEO to have a sustainable business model in order for them to build an agency. They need to be able to plan in advance. They need to be able to accurately predict revenue, so they can use other people’s money to fund tomorrow’s profits. And so they need YOU to believe that “there are no secrets”. They need you to fund TheProgram according to a predetermined plan, because they need to use your funds to pay for the prospective they have to do as the seek more clients. Every time you get pitched by the whiz SEO guru from TheAgency, do you have any doubt your account will end up with a green newbie marketer as soon as you sign the yearly contract? Of course it will. That SEO guru is booked solid on the meeting circuit hooking new clients. He won’t have time for your account. Even if he did, how could they afford to pay him worthy rates as an SEO for your work?

It is actually worse, though. Not only are there plenty of secrets, which are GREAT to have, but there are exploits which are even better. For every secret, there can be a whole collection of exploits, which make use of that secret to win in the SERPs. In fact, exploits are where the fun is: the exploits are what get optimized. If not for the diversity of exploits in SEO, we would probably never share our secrets because the playing field would be too even. Let out a secret that doesn’t need an exploit, and even the agency people will be able to compete. But without a working exploit, your typical SEO secret is of little value.

I have to wonder, if a search marketer publicly states that there are no SEO secrets, what does that say about the search marketer? Does she have no friends?

A secret is something no one else knows. An exploit is a way of using that secret knowledge to win in the SERPs. That “secret” might be market knowledge, consumer trend data, or anything else that gives an edge. Those of you reading this and thinking “on page technical SEO factors” are blinded by your bias. SEO is and always has been about gaining referrals from search engines, whatever that means. It’s all the marketers now coming after search engine referrals that are the clueless newbies of SEM, not the old skool SEOs.

Sometimes people claim to want to “legitimize” SEO and they proclaim that SEO is not cloak and dagger stuff but good solid hard work. Those same people LOVE pay per click. PPC represents the stable, client supported model. I think it should be called PPP instead of PPC, to represent “pay pay pay”. Pay on a regular basis so everybody can plan how they will be spending your money.

Let’s set the record straight. Competitive SEO is about exploitation of “secrets”. You look at the target search results page, examine who ranks and figure out why they do, and take a look at the web materials you have to work with yourself. What secrets do you know, that the current ranking web sites don’t seem to know? What exploits can you execute, that will overtake those players at the top of the SERP? If you come up dry on any of that due diligence, which I don’t expect from any competent SEO today in all but the most competitive SERPs, then you re-think your content strategy. It’s search marketing, optimized. And to those who suggest that SEO types want to keep things “edgy” and don’t want to “get along” you’re just crayoning over the problem. That “edgy” SEO you don’t enjoy on your marketing team reflects your inability to manage the team.
There are no secrets? When i see that, I look for the “Certified AdWords Professional logo” because I translate that to mean “let’s set up a nice big fat Pay Per Click account”. Of course there are secrets. This is business.

The serious issue is really that problem about planning and sustainable business practices. We all need to be able to predict, or perhaps estimate revenues. But the problem is not SEO. The problem is Google, which finds itself in a tough situation as both buyer and seller of advertising and advertising supported traffic. I would like to suggest that all the talking heads out there proclaiming “there are no secrets” and referring to SEOs as pimply-headed geeks reconsider their approach to the problem. instead of bashing SEO, why not work on helping to make organic search traffic procurement sustainable? Why not develop ways to predict market share from available data? Why not lobby Google to put more Ph.D. brain cells onto the problem of webmaster communication and problem resolution? I’d support that effort.


  1. Cooluks wrote:

    Nice article you’ve got there.. By the way how can you state that SEO is not a process? I mean it should be a continuos process… You concluded that SEO is about competitive advantage, not process?

    How come?

    John replies: Sorry, but I didn’t say SEO was not a process. I said SEO is not about the process, meaning that optimization is about the site and the content and it’s position in the market, not the process of executing SEO procedures. When you view your SEO campaign, don’t view it as a set of precedures that need to be performed to get results (a process). View it as an attempt at a set of strategic objectives. You execute on tactics to drive towards successfully meeting those objectives, not because you are doing “SEO”.

    Friday, September 7, 2007 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  2. Todd Mintz wrote:

    Of course there are secrets…however, while my secrets make me $$$ or $$$$ each month, John’s secrets make $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ :.)

    Care to share?

    John’s reply: Hey Todd don’t be silly. Unlike many, I don’t profess to be getting rich from SEO secrets (or PPC arbitrage secrets, or “joint ventures” or whatever). I’m challenged just like everybody else. Tactics work and then stop, sites tank and need adjustments which may take a week or several months, etc. But if you are publishing on the web you do need a competitive mindset that ignores most of the “hey look at this great trick” stuff, and focuses on the practical realities of the web, Google, and competition. Manage the big picture, and position based on that. Diversify to manage risk and to capture profits. Right now 1200 people subscribe to this blog’s feed. Who except for the competitive-minded insiders have patience for my writing? If I give away a “secret” tactic that works well for a niche market, 800 people will deploy it by tomorrow in that market and others. How was that helpful? That may be what drives people to write “there are no secrets” articles in the first place, right? Outsider syndrome?

    I think the message to clients is this: there are SEO “secrets” and they drive the competitive web right now because search engines are the arbiters of consumer traffic. Some secrets are widely know, some not. By definition the norm is not competitive, and everything outside the norm has risk associated with it. Work with an SEO consultant who stays up to date and can advise on execution in the market, and who can help you to manage that risk just as you manage every other business risk.

    Friday, September 7, 2007 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  3. Todd wrote:

    Will you shutup already John? :)

    Friday, September 7, 2007 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  4. Dan Thies wrote:


    Nice post – partly true anyway. :D Depends on what you mean by a secret, doesn’t it?

    I think the reaction of “there are no secrets” is partly in response to the weasels who sell “SEO secrets” to newbies… then you find out that their “big secret” is buying expired domains.

    There are definitely methods and processes, especially around link building, that aren’t commonly known, but the basic facts of SEO (how it works) are not secret.

    If you’ve discovered some new website or “Web 2.0” thing that you can exploit to get links, I suppose you have a secret there, but SEO itself didn’t really change.

    I can remember when the “Squidoo Lens” was a big SEO secret… but I still don’t know how it was different or better than people making Geocities pages to funnel link rep and PR from their spam links to their real sites.

    Saturday, September 8, 2007 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  5. I prefer to call things tactics rather than secrets. And there are more tactics the more granular your discussion of SEO is. For example, at a high-level you might argue that SEO is about on-page and off-page optimization. At that perspective, there are no secrets. There is nothing else except what’s on a page and what’s not on a page. However, when you dig deeper and deeper, there are tactics that are either not well-known (making them secrets) and tactics that are simply not executed as well as they could be despite being popular. It’s the knowledge of those tactics and the skills to develop and execute those tactics that companies are hoping they’re getting when they shell out the big bucks.

    Monday, October 1, 2007 at 10:40 am | Permalink

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